Ahead of the 2023 Tripura Assembly election, the polls in the 13 civic bodies have become crucial to know the political ground reality of “urban Tripura”. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the polls were postponed for one year. The other crucial battle would be the pending Village Council polls of the Tripura Tribal Autonomous Areas District Council (TTAADC) likely to be held next year.
Few Incidents of Poll Violence
Despite the Supreme Court’s order for free and fair polls, the polling day witnessed incidents of violence. The opposition CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress alleged that there were attempts to undermine polling. Even during the election campaign, the CPI(M)-led Left Front and the Trinamool Congress alleged that their candidates, workers and supporters were attacked. Just ahead of the polling day, CPI(M) state secretary, Jitendra Chaudhury, filed a petition in the Supreme Court calling for free and fair polls in the state. There had been a few incidents where BJP workers and supporters faced attacks and some of their campaign paraphernalia were spoiled.
Already, the ruling BJP has won seven civic bodies uncontested and 34% of the total 334 seats. Hence, the polls are being held for 222 seats. Interestingly, the ruling Trinamool won 34% of the seats uncontested in the 2018 rural body polls of West Bengal.
Agartala Municipal Corporation — The Most Important Battle
The battle for Agartala Municipal Corporation, which has 51 wards, was mostly triangular, wherein the BJP, the Left Front and the TMC were locked in a tight fight. Both the BJP and the TMC contested all 51 wards. Trinamool’s campaign was led by Subal Bhowmik, convenor of the state party’s steering committee, and Sushmita Dev, the party’s Rajya Sabha MP.
The main face for the BJP campaign was Chief Minister Biplab Deb himself. The other crucial leader was Union Minister Pratima Bhowmik, who became the first Union Minister from the state this year. Both were aided by state party president Manik Saha, state Education Minister Ratan Lal Nath, state Minister and party’s youth face Sushanta Chowdhury etc. No doubt that BJP was ahead in the election campaign in Agartala.
The Left faced some setbacks as five of its candidates — four from CPI(M) and one from the Forward Bloc — withdrew their nominations. The Left contested in 46 wards — the CPI(M) in 40, the Forward Bloc in one, the RSP in two and the CPI in three wards. However, the Left didn’t leave the ground and organised door-to-door campaigns and processions. Crucial front organisations of the CPI(M) — the All India Democratic Women Association, the Democratic Youth Federation of India and the Tripura Youth Federation, the party’s tribal youth wing — also organised separate processions in support of Left candidates.
Importantly, in various street corner meetings held in the wards of Agartala, it was Jitendra Chaudhury who led the Left campaign. Although former Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition Manik Sarkar campaigned for the Left candidates in other civic bodies, he, surprisingly, wasn’t seen prominently in the Agartala poll campaign.
However, he was the main speaker of a large rally and procession organised by the Left Front in support of the Agartala candidates. Significantly, the Congress, which was contesting only in 33 wards, led a very weak campaign.
A Silent Fight for BJP Rebels
BJP rebels led by Agartala constituency MLA Sudip Barman, aided by Town Bardowali MLA Ashis Kumar Saha, had been ignored by the party during the campaign. A section of Trinamool candidates, according to rumours, belongs to the Sudip camp. In case the Trinamool performs well in Agartala, Sudip’s camp would be in a better position to deal with their previous party Trinamool — and perhaps also with the BJP leadership as Sudip maintains good relations with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the chairman of the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance.
It is quite interesting as some of the Trinamool candidates were from the BJP and as a result, they could have eaten into the votes of the BJP. Did the Left candidates benefit from that? The question arises because the Left still has a committed vote bank in the state. Another interesting question is whom the Left voters voted for in Ward Nos 13, 14, 18, 20 and 43, where there were no Left candidates. Among these, the Congress had candidates only in two wards.
In the 2018 state polls, the Left lost all the constituencies — Agartala, Town Bardowali, Banamalipur, Barjala, Ramnagar, Khayerpur, Bhadharghat and Pratapgarh — that have wards in Agartala.
For the Left, the battle was to regain the ground it had lost in the 2018 polls and later in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. For the BJP, the battle was to retain the foothold it gained in 2018.
The Trinamool aimed to occupy the main opposition status in Agartala. The voters of Agartala generally elect the ruling party of the state, but in the 1995 civic polls, the opposition Congress swept the body by winning 14 out of 17 seats.
BJP vs Left
In eight civic bodies — Kumarghat Municipal Council, Panisagar Nagar Panchayat, Dharmanagar Municipal Council, Sabroom Nagar Panchayat, Belonia Municipal Council, Khowai Municipal Council, Melaghar Municipal Council and Amarpur Nagar Panchayat — the fight was mainly bipolar, where the BJP and the CPI(M)-led Left were locked in a tight battle.
The Trinamool, and also the Congress, tried to put up a fight in some selected wards of a few councils. In three civic bodies — Sonamura Nagar Panchayat, Ambasa Municipal Council and Teliamura Municipal Council – the fight was triangular as the Trinamool was also in the fray along with the BJP and the Left. The Congress was in a serious fight only in the Kailashahar Municipal Council, where state party president Birajit Singha had heavily invested his energy. However, the BJP and the CPI(M), too, didn’t leave the ground, with Biplab and Manik, respectively, campaigning for the victory of their own party candidates.
For Biplab Deb, already facing internal dissent, favourable results would cement his position in the state.
If the party fails, the rumours of his facing the axe of the BJP high command, as seen in Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Karnataka, may come true before the state Assembly polls.
For the CPI(M), which recently got its tribal face Jitendra Chaudhury as the new state secretary, the fight was to retain the opposition space and also regain the ground it had lost to the BJP in 2018 and later. Although he didn’t get much time, any positive result is likely to strengthen his position within the party ahead of the 2022 State Party Congress. He may also emerge as the party’s face in the upcoming state elections.
Interestingly, in the 2018 by-elections of civic bodies and the 2019 rural body polls, most of the CPI(M) candidates withdrew from the contest. But this time, the party didn’t leave in many places. And for the Trinamool, there was nothing to lose — it had only to gain. Things would get clearer when the results would be declared on 28 November.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a commentator on politics with interestest in religion and philosophy. He tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)